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October 03. 2012 12:40AM

Aldermen vote to take on education

MANCHESTER — The Board of Mayor and Aldermen and the Board of School Committee are teaming up to form a joint panel to address problems facing the city's schools.

The aldermen voted Tuesday to establish a committee that would be made up of three aldermen and three members of the Board of School Committee, provided the board agrees to participate.

The aldermen voted 11-2 to establish the joint committee, after Mayor Ted Gatsas vetoed the original proposal to establish an aldermanic committee on education without any school board members on it.

Alderman Dan O'Neil proposed the idea; he backed the joint committee proposal as a compromise.

“The public expects more out of us regarding the schools,” he said. “The school board has pointed at the aldermen in all of this. The blame game has bothered me. If you're going to blame me, then I'm going to have to pay more of a role in fixing it.”

Opponents of the proposals, including Gatsas, said they could usurp the authority of the school board and hinder its efforts to deal with the current problems facing the district.

However, a majority of the aldermen backed the proposals. Several indicated they had already spoken to school board members who supported working with the aldermen on school matters.

Alderman Garth Corriveau said there needed to be more communication with the school board beyond the few months when the alderman craft and propose the budget for the school district.

“There are things we can do, and we do them more than three months a year,” he said. “We should be trying to foster a relationship with the school board. Parents are asking us to do more than just be the bottom-line guys.”

Several of the aldermen who backed the formation of an education committee expressed frustration with the school board.

“I'm not looking at being adversarial. I'm just desperate for information,” said Alderman Pat Long, referring to the problems related to class sizes and talks with Hooksett and neighboring districts that are considering no longer sending their students to city high schools.

O'Neil also said that he had serious concerns about safety in the schools, including incidents involving students who habitually violate the conduct code.

Gatsas said he shared some of these concerns, but he stressed that the school board was making good progress in dealing with these issues. The mayor has taken an aggressive role in recent weeks in proposing a suite of reforms to the school board, and it has been moving forward with many of these ideas.

O'Neil's original proposal for an aldermanic education committee was approved 8-5. Mayor Gatsas vetoed the motion; 10 votes are required for an override.

Alderman Joe Kelly Levasseur proposed the joint committee idea — and he at first suggested that the committee be formed, regardless of whether the school board supports the panel.

“I look at the school board as our little brothers and sisters,” Levasseur said earlier in the debate. “They're like cool over there, doing their thing. They ask us for the moon, and we give them what we think is reality.”

The motion was revised to state that the joint committee would be disbanded if the school board votes not to participate.

The two aldermen who voted against the joint committee motion were Jim Roy and Phil Greazzo.

“I think having a school committee would be mirroring the school board,” Greazzo said.

The Board of School Committee is expected to vote on the proposal at its next meeting, Oct. 9

West Principal's suspension

In other action at Tuesday's meeting, Mayor Gatsas said an investigation is under way concerning MaryEllen McGorry, the popular Manchester High School West principal who was suspended last week.

Alderman Greazzo asked for information about the suspension. “There's a lot of support for her,” he said. “I'm at a loss as to what's going on. I know it's a confidential situation, but I think the aldermen should at least be made aware of this, even in closed session.”

Gatsas said neither he nor the school board have been informed about the matter, and that they won't be until an investigation is concluded. The district's legal counsel is conducting the investigation, at a cost of $250 an hour.

“We hope it's quick,” Gatsas said.

Refugee center

The aldermen voted Tuesday to approve spending $1.1 million in unused federal grant and bond money to complete the redevelopment of the Odd Fellows building on Lake Avenue.

The city intends to turn the building into a center for programs to assist refugees that live in the neighborhood.

Most of the funding comes from $1 million in bonds left over from the construction of the municipal complex, and the money would have to be returned to the federal government if not designated for use by March 2013.

Veterans Park restrooms

The aldermen weren't ready to move forward with a plan to seek historic recognition for the restroom station at Veterans Park.

The Committee on Lands and Buildings had backed trying to get the complex placed on the New Hampshire State Register of Historic Places, which could make it eligible for federal funding to support its restoration as a visitors center.

The complex was built in 1911 as a “public convenience station” and features opulent underground bathrooms.

But several aldermen, along with the mayor, raised questions about additional costs that might be incurred to make the complex accessible to the disabled. They also raised questions about the ongoing maintenance of the complex, most of which is below-ground.

The issue was tabled, and Parks and Recreation Director Peter Capano was directed to get answers to these and other questions.

tsiefer@unionleader.com


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